Contenders for Malcom Smith Seat Undaunted by Comrie Candidacy

Leroy Comrie. (Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)

Leroy Comrie. (Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)

Two of the men trying to unseat indicted State Senator Malcolm Smith aren’t changing their plans just because a big-name contender–former Councilman Leroy Comrie–is entering the race.

Clyde Vanel and Munir Avery both said yesterday they would continue to fight for the southeast Queens-based seat, even as the Queens Democratic Party pushes Mr. Comrie.

“Oh yeah, I’m running and I plan on winning. I’m glad he’s entering. It’s one of the best things that could’ve happened for me,” Mr. Avery, an attorney, told the Observer. “He splits the vote. Leroy Comrie and Malcolm Smith, they get their votes from the same neighborhoods.”

Mr. Avery was also willing to take some jabs at Mr. Comrie. “The reason why I think people will vote for me over Leroy Comrie is that he has a history of siding with Michael Bloomberg and Christine Quinn Quinn against what the community wanted,” he said.

NY1 first reported Mr. Comrie’s plan to challenge Mr. Smith on Sunday. The former councilman was a long-rumored candidate but appeared to put those whispers to rest when he took a lucrative gig as a deputy to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz earlier this year.

But Queens Democrats have since pressured Mr. Comrie to challenge Mr. Smith, sources say. In addition to the indictment on corruption charges, many Democrats have wanted to defeat Mr. Smith since 2012, when he joined the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of breakaway Democrats who govern the State Senate with the Republican Party. (Mr. Smith was booted from the IDC after his indictment and currently caucuses with no party.)

Mr. Vanel, an attorney like Mr. Avery, said he was undaunted by Mr. Comrie at least partially because the former councilman dropped out of the Queens borough president race in 2013 after failing to raise the adequate funds.

“I’m a candidate with conviction,” said Mr. Vanel, who barely lost a race for City Council last year. “I’m focused on running this race and really representing the community well. Leroy Comrie, whether he was going to run or not, I wasn’t sure.”

“He was running for borough president last year and at the last minute pulled out. Because of that, a lot of people were disappointed with that and are not sure if he is really in this race or not,” Mr. Vanel added.

For his part, Mr. Comrie said that he did not expect any of his rivals to drop out of the race and said he was running because Mr. Smith had too many damaged relationships with his colleagues and constituents.

“I’m running because of the overwhelming requests from people that have asked me to come into the race, knowing my skill set and what I’ve been able to do as a councilman,” Mr. Comrie told the Observer. “[Mr. Smith] had fractured relationships with people in government and business and the nonprofit world prior to his indictment. He had created a reticence from many people to work with him. The indictment only enhanced it.”

Mr. Comrie also said he already hired campaign consultants and would be hosting a kickoff event shortly.

Mr. Smith declined to comment. A fourth candidate, Bernadette Semple, could not be reached.